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India on the cusp of eradicating polio

NEW DELHI, Oct 25 – India is on the verge of eradicating polio with only one case reported in 2011, making it the “longest ever polio free period”, a health ministry official said Monday.

Just one case of polio has been reported in the last 10 months compared to 39 cases reported in 2010, said the country’s health ministry in a statement.

The only case was reported from the eastern Indian state of West Bengal in January and so far no cases have been reported in the usually high-incidence states of Uttar Pradesh in the north and Bihar in the east.

“We are close to our goal,” said India’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in New Delhi on Sunday, referring to the polio eradication drive undertaken by the government.

The illness, which can paralyse a child for life within hours, has been tougher to wipe out than initially expected. Some 750 cases were reported in India in 2009.

Azad said despite remarkable progress, there was the risk the illness could return. The government has decided to treat any fresh case of polio as a “public health emergency.”

India has stepped up polio surveillance on states bordering Pakistan, Nepal and China after new cases erupted in the neighbouring countries. All children crossing to India by road and train are administered with a polio vaccine.

Polio has broken out in China for the first time since 1999. The outbreak marked the latest setback to a global campaign to eradicate polio, now considered endemic in only four countries — Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

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